HEADHUNTERS (63.3)

this scene contains violence and death.


City of Rangda — Ocean Road

Radio sets started to come alive, and units began to list off their positions and readiness.

Everyone was accounted for. Code words were then dispensed with for plain language.

“The Operation is commencing! All units, radios free! We want them to hear!”

Rangda was soon buzzing with activity from the revitalized 1st Motor Rifles Regiment.

On all sides the gates to the old 8th Division barracks opened, and a small fleet of vehicles charged out into the streets of Rangda. Gbahali armored trucks and half-tracks ferried reserve rifle units, following in the wake of sloped, heavily armed Hobgoblin tanks leading the assault. Creeping through the alleyways, Kobold scout tanks ferrying sniper teams and pathfinding units and artillery spotters covered the flanks and wound around the enemy.

Deeper within Rangda other units regrouped and attacked wherever they found the enemy in sight. Rifle units once encircled near University began their breakout; artillery and tanks coming in from Umaru reestablished radio contact and began to bombard the roads and to ambush Elven convoys, preventing many from linking up to form larger threats. Throughout Ocean Road and North Rangda, tank units that had fled the aerial invasion and the capture of Shayma El-Amin and her HQ began tentative attacks toward lost positions.

Within moments of their deployment, the attacking units heard artillery going off from the Regimental Headquarters in the distance. Heavy 122mm guns opened fire into the sky, and ahead of them the attacking units saw the bursts of dirt and smoke and churned up road and street that rose pillar-like in the wake of every blast. There were shells dropping seemingly everywhere in the city but the curtain was spread thin. For a preparatory bombardment it was short and almost polite, as if a warning shot to sound the alarm.

Nobody would give the Elves time to heed the warning regardless.

As if they were being timed or racing the attacking units moved breathlessly.

Assault groups spread apart, heading in every direction from the headquarters. Northward and Northeastward small units headed for the flanks of Ocean Road and to contact other units; westward, units were sent to free civilians in Rangda Airport and at the train station and in other large public areas where Mansa had taken them, and where the Elves now threatened them; and smaller engineering units headed to the port for a special task.

Meanwhile, the spear of the assault was carried and thrust by its very architect.

One lone platoon of tanks stepped out onto the road from the main gate and stamped over the remains of a fallen 8th Division roadblock. They made for Ocean Road, to stick the knife right into the gut of the enemy resistance. They were arranged in a curious formation, a diagonal zig-zag where every tank could potentially open fire ahead.

Four of the tanks were green Hobgoblins, but the lead tank was very different.

Its model and its role and its crew were unique.

Inside the steeply sloping, angular turret of the heavily-armored Rakshasa Command Tank, Madiha Nakar personally charged into the fray. She had been in a tank before; never in a combat capacity against an equivalent enemy, however. Still, the confines proved very familiar. Madiha was seated in the commander/gunner’s chair, while Parinita sat in the co-commander’s/loader’s chair right next to her. Below them was Agwala, their driver.

“All units move forward at thirty kilometers per hour until engagement!” She ordered.

Rounding the corner away from the Headquarters, the platoon maintained formation and speed exactly as ordered. Their turrets sought around for targets as they moved. Their odd configuration, flaunting of radio silence and small size stood out among the attacking forces. This was just as Madiha intended. Her personal unit had a unique mission.

Having given the order, Madiha peeled her head back from the periscope and sighed.

Her bodysuit felt a little tight, and she felt it was not breathing too well.

And the confines of the turret were hot. Especially with Parinita so close nearby.

Still, Madiha was energized. Everything was moving again. This attack would be defining.

“Madiha.”

At her side, her partner drew her attention.

“Yes, Parinita?”

Parinita crossed her arms over her tightly-suited chest and looked at her seriously.

“You need to think of a one-liner.” She said.

“A what?” Madiha asked.

Parinita grinned, as if she had some incredible insight she was very satisfied to share.

“One very intense thing you say to your defeated enemies.” She said.

Madiha blinked.

“Perhaps something akin to’Surrender or you will be shot’? That sounds powerful.”

“No! I mean, for example, ‘looks like your clam’s been shelled’.”

She made a little finger gun and shot it with a wink after saying her line.

Madiha burst out laughing suddenly.

“That is terrible, Parinita. Why would I say that?” She asked.

Parinita protested. “That’s just an example! It’s why you have to think of one.”

“I will think of one.” Madiha replied.

This was probably a silly film thing but Madiha would oblige if it was important to Parinita.

“You’re thinking that I’m goofing off, aren’t you?” Parinita said.

“Of course not.”

Parinita smiled. She crossed her arms again and put on a conceited smile.

“Trust me, for the part we’re playing, it will help tremendously to have a one-liner.”

“I will definitely have one when the time comes.” Madiha said.

“Oh! Check your periscope, we’re starting.”

Something must have come in over the wireless that alerted her.

Madiha flipped down the periscope sight and looked through it again.

Ahead, the street diverting into Ocean Road proper was visible.

Blocking the way was an Elven tank, painted in urban gray and black patterns.

At its side was a stolen anti-tank gun.

Madiha ordered a charge.

“A 45mm pattern is useless against us! Fire at will! All units fire HE!” She said.

Parinita reached down beneath the seat and procured a 76mm AP-HE shell.

Madiha loaded the shell into the gun, and turned a crank to move the turret.

She looked through the sight and found herself aiming in the general vicinity of the target.

For her, this was good enough.

There were muzzle flashes in response.

The Rakshasa shook from the force of two low caliber anti-tank attacks.

Every shell deflected off the strong, thick, sloped armor on the front of the body.

“Are you scared?” Madiha asked.

She hit the electric trigger on the Rakshasa’s gun and watched as the enemy tank lit up in the distance. One shot, penetrating right through the gun mantlet and setting ablaze the turret as the ammunition cooked. Around it, high-explosive shots from the Hobgoblins detonated in big, briefly flashing bursts of heat that developed into clouds of smoke and metal. Though the anti-tank gun withstood the blasts, nobody was now alive to man it.

“Absolutely not.” Parinita said, smiling. “After seeing all this movie magic?”

She pulled up another shell and dropped it with some effort onto the upper ready rack.

“There’s no place I feel safer in than at your side, Madiha.”

“I see.”

Madiha smiled, and pulled her head back from her sight.

“Parinita, do you think it’s appropriate to–”

Parinita cut her off, leaning in for a kiss that sealed her mouth.

Though the attack could’ve almost gone unnoticed in its initial moments, the war was once more growing heated. Over the radio, cries of “loading AP-HE!” and “unsealing guns” and “moving on the position” sounded on every conceivable band. There was an incredible racket on half the channels as if radios had been wedged under a never-ending stampede of beasts and left broadcasting the noise. Unencrypted communications detailed every shot taken by every tank and rifle unit throughout Rangda. Several were 8th Division communications, hapless and distorted; most now were Motor Rifle communications, deliberately broadcast by incredulous radio personnel still uncomprehending of the plan.

When Parinita and Madiha’s lips parted, the tanks were turning into Ocean Road.

“I admit, I am a little nervous.” Madiha said.

“What’s wrong? Feeling doubtful? I believe in you.” Parinita replied.

They stared fondly into each other’s eyes for a moment. Madiha broke off first.

She looked down the periscope and spotted the first Elven roadblock ahead.

“I’m afraid I might not find a one-liner that can impress my lover.” Madiha said.

Parinita laughed.

There were sandbags and crates, and two light machine guns alongside a long rifleman, probably an anti-tank sniper. Madiha hardly felt the shots from the sniper inside the tank. She knew they were striking the gun mantlet, trying to shoot away her sight and periscope, but the armor shrugged them off so utterly that she only knew there was gunfire from the muzzle flashes. Both light machine gunners had rudimentary anti-tank training. They fired tracers against the tracks and against the hatches and around where the sights and vision ports would have been, hoping to frighten the tankers away.

Madiha’s men and women had more discipline than that.

“Fire at will! Load High Explosive!”

Parinita seized the shell from the ready rack and passed it along.

Madiha loaded, briefly aimed, and fired.

Her shell soared through the air and struck the crates along the edge of the sandbag emplacement, sending splinters and fragments flying in every direction. Everyone in the position must have felt the sting of some flying projectile, either metal or wood, or the force of the explosion as a concussive burst. All gunfire ceased from the roadblock.

“Madiha!”

At the sound of her lover’s excitement, Madiha pulled back from the gun.

Parinita pointed at the radio. “Strike Five has broken through to Northern Ocean Road and are working their way through anti-tank traps and enemy armor. We may be home free.”

“Good. We’ll make a little more mess here. I still have to say my line.”

Madiha pointed the formation toward the next closest roadblock.

“Enemy armor incoming!” Parinita warned.

She was receiving updates from the Kobolds and spotters; they must have seen enemy tanks moving away from other road battles and toward the confluence of the attacks at Ocean Road. This was the place with the most to lose and to gain, where any fool would have attacked and any lesser fool defended. There were Ayvartan tanks in hiding, either abandoned or captured or pinned down for the Elven taking; there was an Ayvartan commander trapped; there was Elven traffic, routing through to every part of Rangda.

It was the place where Madiha had to be the loudest.

“I’ll engage them. Strike Three, break off from me and wind around the flanks.”

Parinita nodded her head as the approving responses came flooding in through the radio.

The Rakshasa moved from the upper corner of the diagonal formation to its center.

Around it the attendant Hobgoblins split up.

Ahead, the next roadblock, built from the husk of a damaged Goblin tank, lay abandoned.

Madiha spotted Lubon’s finest fleeing at the sight of the tank.

The Rakshasa shrugged off the lesser machine and pushed into the center of Ocean Road.

Ahead of her she could see a mass of gunfire in the air. The bulk of the Elven forces had moved toward the site of their first engagement, against Strike Five. Cannons and small arms traded shots across the road bisecting key positions atop the sloping Ocean Road. As the sun traveled, the combatants cast eerie shadows, standing in the gloom of decrepit buildings and damaged pedestrian overpasses and the debris of downed planes and burnt-out tanks, painting a stark picture that was periodically lit up bright by the tracers.

“Madiha, the tanks are moving in! We’ve two– no, three small ones, one with a big gun!”

Madiha kept her eyes peeled on the road, and spotted the enemy platoon as it moved in.

All three tanks were identical to the ones before, with riveted armor and four big wheels.

One of them had a strange extension at the front of its gun.

This one was the first to open fire.

When its gun flashed the effect was diffused and abnormal.

Madiha was unprepared for the muzzle velocity; she barely registered that a gun fired.

In the next instant the shell struck the gun mantlet, and the turret shook.

She did not hear the tell-tale clanking of the shell’s deflected remains coming back down.

It must have shattered from the sheer brute force of the attack.

“It’s a squeeze-bore.” Madiha said.

She couldn’t see it on the periscope; switching to the gun sight and adjusting the magnification allowed her to spot the tell-tale barrel extender on the enemy’s 2-pounder.

“Can it penetrate?” Parinita said, betraying a hint of anxiety as she passed on a shell.

“No.”

Madiha would never know definitively; she said no because she would not allow it.

Loading a shell, she targeted the tank with the extension first.

Her own muzzle velocity was not as explosive as that of a squeeze bore; but by her hand the shell easily cut the distance and struck the enemy tank, setting alight the turret.

Covering the flanks of the defeated tank, the other elven lights opened fire with their stock, unmodified 2-pounder guns. Sans the squeeze-bore, the shots deflected off the Rakshasa’s body with such silken ease that Madiha hardly felt them. She casually turned her turret to meet them, and systematically fired one shot, turned, and fired the next.

Both machines went up in flames.

“I think this is it.” Madiha said. “Send the signal.”

Parinita nodded.

She stood up on her seat, and struck a trigger on the side of the turret.

Outside, a smoke launcher popped.

Instead of a smoke charge, however, it shot a flare.

Madiha felt her heartbeat quicken. It was time to put the plan into action.

“Will you be ok?” She asked her partner.

In response, Parinita leaned closer and drew her lips into a sudden kiss again.

Feeling the moist warmth of her lover’s lips, pulling her own, and the forwardness with which she sought the touch, Madiha yielded. For a moment, inside the sweltering turret, rattling and smelling of smoke, the two were locked together in a utopia of their own ardor. Neither moved their hands. It was all lips, tongue, a mischievous hint of teeth.

When they parted, Parinita winked coquettishly.

“I’m a very distracting person, I’ll have you know.” She said.

Madiha’s eyes lingered on her lover, and she silently agreed.

“Go be a hero.” Parinita smiled.

She pulled up the radio handset, and configured the set to broadcast over the Elven bands.

After a few moments of broadcasting alert and attention, she turned the handset over.

Madiha tapped on the handset microphone, smiled, and spoke into it in perfect Elvish.

“Is that iron I smell, Paladin, or your army’s blood becoming mist?”


Parinita covered her mouth, trying not to burst out laughing.

“I must have missed the mark, I take it?” Madiha said.

“You never miss.” Parinita replied.

Nodding, Madiha climbed up onto her seat and pushed the hatch up, and left the tank.

Watching her go, Parinita felt a sense of anxiety, true; but also a deep satisfaction.

Madiha looked so gallant in that bodysuit, it truly captured her features well, and tightly.

Even the vest seemed to compliment her perfectly.

Riding off to battle, first on the modern world’s steed, and now, in another.

Parinita was once upset to see her on the front lines.

Truly what she wanted was to be there with her. To be where she was.

Now she had that chance, to fight alongside her, to fight with her, to fighter for her.

She felt exquisite! For someone like her, who struggled to find value, this was amazing.

It gave her hope that she and Madiha could do anything, survive anything.

She shifted from the radio operator/loader’s seat to the gunner/commander’s seat.

Parinita looked through the periscope and found more enemies coming in from the side streets. They had likely been redeployed from ongoing elven attacks to try to patch up the situation in Ocean Road. Because of the relatively small number of tanks and infantry participating in Madiha’s attack, they likely believed they could fend it off easily.

Now that the Hobgoblin and Rakshasa had shown their capabilities, the Elves must have been panicking. Everything had to be rushing down to Ocean Road at top speed.

Just as Madiha wanted it. All they had to do now was keep up the carnage.

Foom–

There was a bang and a rumble that Parinita felt even in her gut.

She heard a sequence of rhythmic thumps as upturned concrete flew up and came down over her turret in chunks. Through the periscope, she spotted two enemy tracked vehicles, squat and open-topped, carrying what seemed like small, short-barreled portable howitzers. They approached from behind the wrecks of the previous wave of doomed enemy armor, keeping their distance and attacking directly with their explosive shells.

Her vision was momentarily obscured when a shell detonated against the glacis plate.

There was again a cacophony of short-lived dings and bangs as fragments bounced off the armor. Parinita had learned from experience and from her girlfriend that explosive shells could inflict some damage to heavy tanks, but they had to be powerful enough to dislodge or cave-in the armor. This required monstrously large guns. No pack howitzer could do it.

Parinita flipped her hair haughtily, and laughed.

“Hah! I’ll show you the power of radio personnel!”

She reached for where the top shell rack was, but her arm settled instead on the radio.

“This is Strike Three Actual! Fire Mission Request, TRP Six, Six, Five, Four, Azimuth–”

As she began to give her artillery orders, the Rakshasa backed slowly away.

“–This is Adesh Gurunath! Order received! Commencing fire mission!”

“Don’t range it! Saturation on point. Mark!” Parinita replied.

Moments later, a shell fell among the two artillery tractors, and a pillar of dust blew up.

Behind the cloud a dozen shells followed, and a dozen more.

Churned concrete, dust, burning gasoline; deep flashes rose and fell away in intensity within the ever-expanding cloud as the shellfire pulverized the artillery tractors and smashed up the street up and down and around the coordinates Parinita had given. Without a ranging shot the artillery was wildly inaccurate, but there was so much fire that the tractors were ground to pieces from the sheer volume. Everyone on Ocean Road must have heard and seen the explosions, so many and so fierce they were. Parinita grinned.

She stuck out her chest and saluted, feeling proud of herself.

“Driver, bring me closer! I want to be so close I can hit them with my machete!”

Playing the part of the distraction was perhaps getting to her head.

But being able to take part in the battle, supporting Madiha at her side–

It was exhilarating!

With the driver’s silent compliance, the Rakshasa began to move.

Ahead, the battle raged on. Shells exchanged, machine guns blaring, and troops moving.

Elven forces from all over were retreating back to Ocean Road.

That focal point would be their undoing.

Everything was happening as Madiha had planned and Parinita had statted out.


In a dusty alleyway off of Ocean Road, Colonel Madiha Nakar vanished wraithlike from the distance battle of Ocean Road. She was met along a side-street by a small cadre of soldiers all saluting her at once. She nodded her head, crossed her arms, and a pair of them broke the lock to a nearby shutter door into a small garage. It had been a family owned place, promising custom work and difficult repairs done with a gentle hand. A vehicle shop.

Now the owners were gone, and the machinery replaced. When they raised the shutter, the secret cadre instead found Sergeant Agni, slick with oil and grease, holding a wrench. She was surrounded by spare parts, puddles of nondescript fluid, and piles of various tools.

She stood, half-undressed, her exposed belly and shoulders grimy, her hair wet.

Her face was inexpressive when she met them.

Madiha averted her eyes slightly, as she felt a modest, spoken-for woman should.

Agni picked up her jacket from the floor and started buttoning it up.

“How went the special mission?” Madiha asked, a grin on her face.

“When you told me to veer right back around and find a workshop I was skeptical.”

Agni turned around, and suddenly pulled the tarp off a series of objects in the garage.

Beneath the tarps were several motorcycles, one with an armed sidecar.

There was a glint of something in Agni’s eyes as she beheld them.

“I must admit, however, that the project was challenging and kept me engaged for the few desperate, hurried hours I had to complete it before potential discovery and death.”

“I apologize for the suddenness of my request. But you appear to have succeeded.”

Agni crossed her arms, staring at her handiwork. Though she bore no smile or frown, her body language and demeanor subtly communicated what must have been swelling pride.

“Your service has been extraordinary, Agni. Have you any reward in mind?” Madiha asked.

“May I drive you?” Agni quickly asked.

Madiha smiled. “That can’t be your reward! It’s what I always had planned.”


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